A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Our Last Hurrah in South East Asia!

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We left Siem Reap, Cambodia and bused it nine hours to the Bangkok airport in order to meet up with four friends from home, Teri, Kiley, Adrienne (my PA school classmates) and Matt (Adrienne’s husband). We were so excited to see them! They made the long trip from the East Coast to spend a few days with us and see some of Thailand.

Their flight arrived close to midnight, so after meeting up, we headed straight to the Siam Square Lub’D Hostel for a good night’s sleep. The next day we ventured out to see some sights in Bangkok and even saw a few new sites for us, including Jim Thompson’s House and Wat Arun. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who made it big in the Thai silk trade back in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappeared without a trace in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and his Bangkok home has since been turned into a museum. From Jim Thompson’s House, we took a canal boat to Wat Arun – a smelly experience. The Bangkok canals collect a lot of trash and water runoff, and are shockingly stinky as a result, so much so that even the locals attempt not to get splashed by canal water for fear of disease – sometimes I wish I could just bottle up the smells here and send them to you – don’t you :)
IMG_2388.jpgIn Jim Thompson's House
IMG_2418.jpgOur tour down the infamous Khao San Road, nicknamed the "backpacker ghetto"
4IMG_2450.jpgWat Arun
IMG_2438.jpgAfter huffing it up the stairs at Wat Arun
DSCN1565.jpgChecking out some Thai boxing
IMG_2460.jpgEnjoying our crazy tuk-tuk ride back to the hostel

After one full day in Bangkok, we jetted south to the island of Phuket and took a ferry to the secluded island of Ko Phi Phi (pronounced “ko pee pee” – we got a few laughs out of that one). I’ve been waiting almost our entire trip to find sugar sand beaches and turquoise blue water and this place seemed to have both in abundance! We spent the better part of three days soaking up the sun, floating in the Andaman Sea, watching amazing sunsets, enjoying delicious fresh fruit shakes, and catching up with old friends. On one day, we took a longtail boat to several nearby beaches and did some great snorkeling. The longtail boat even stopped at gorgeous Maya Bay, the site where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.
2IMG_0730.jpgOn the metro- catching our ealy am flight to Phuket
IMG_2794.jpgReally amazing scenery
IMG_2605.jpgOur beach :)
IMG_2635.jpgThailand's famous longtail boats
IMG_2594.jpgA fire dancer show we saw one night
IMG_2597.jpgOn our walk back from dinner
IMG_2540.jpgViews from out on our longtail boat day trip
IMG_2653.jpgAttempting snorkeling
IMG_2771.jpgReally fantastic sunsets on Ko Phi Phi

After saying a sad goodbye to Ko Phi Phi, we took the ferry back to Phuket and checked in to our hotel a short walk from Kata Beach, a beautiful crescent shaped beach with excellent people watching (including topless 60 plus-ers from Club Med strutting their stuff). In addition to more beach time, we spent one afternoon trekking through the jungle on the backs of huge elephants. Teri and Kiley’s elephant was only 14 (considered a teenager) and had a mind of her own. We’re pretty sure their elephant trainer was also drunk and thus didn’t seem to care that they often took the path less traveled and/or made their own “special path”. Towards the end of the trek, the trainers let us sit in the “manout” position directly behind the elephants ears and try to steer the elephants – an amusing experience.
IMG_2813.jpgOur stretch of sand on Kata Beach
IMG_2952.jpgThe view from our elephant trek- and Teri and Kiley with their elephant on the "road less traveled"
IMG_2918.jpgAdrienne and Matt with their elephant
IMG_2979.jpgThere's really very little of me "guiding" here
IMG_3005.jpgThese gibbons were hilarious- to me this looks like she's saying "yup, just relaxing, how's it going with you?"

Given how isolated Ko Phi Phi is, it did not have much nightlife, so we tried to take advantage of the nightlife around Kata Beach. On our first night, we happened upon a restaurant which had an extremely talented male singer/guitarist covering both old and new American music (it is amazing how popular American music is worldwide). Later that evening, we hit up The Boathouse, a beach front bar with pricy drinks but a great view. Our extremely kind waiter helped us purchase and setoff heart shaped, floating lanterns in honor of Valentine’s Day. Amusingly, Adrienne had to get a second one because her first one crash landed in the ocean seconds after takeoff.
DSCN1897.jpgA shot of Teri and I about to let our lanterns fly

For our second night in Phuket, we headed to the infamous Patong Beach. It has a reputation of being pretty seedy, but in the end it was more like a circus – tons of tourists, neon lights, lady-boy cabarets, shops, go-go dancing bars, etc. It was interesting to just walk around and get a glimpse of tourists behaving badly. We ate dinner at an Irish pub and thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the band in the bar – we may have even requested Journey :) We capped off the evening by stopping by a well known ice cream joint where the waitresses were dressed like French maids – it is Patong after all.
DSCN2055.jpgThe neon and cheesy in Patong
RSCN2072.jpgAt the Irish bar for dinner
RSCN2105.jpgDinner and drinks with an amazing view one night for dinner

We finished up our time in Phuket the next morning at a local spa. The girls and Matt got their first traditional Thai massages while I got a foot reflexology massage and Jeff had his haircut and feet eaten in the fish spa. For the fish spa, you sit with your feet in a big fish tank while special fish eat the dead skin off your feet – it is very popular in Asia and I don’t know how Jeff lasted the whole 20 minutes- seems like it tickles. We all flew back that afternoon to Bangkok where we enjoyed our last dinner together at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. It was amazing for us to spend time with friends from home and to share with them life on the road! It definitely made for some good times and great memories :)
IMG_3072.jpgGetting my reflexology on!
IMG_3065.jpgJeff enjoying the fish spa

It is hard to believe, but our three months in Southeast Asia has come to an end and we are leaving Bangkok for the last time. Our South East Asia guide book says the first time you come to Bangkok you feel overwhelmed and excited, when you return you’ll feel pampered and relieved, and when you leave for the last time you’ll feel sad to go. I find that sentiment to be extremely true! South East Asia was such a change from everything else we have seen on our trip – we really enjoyed it! Overall, the locals here are very friendly and respectful. It was extremely affordable which meant we were able to “live it up” more there than anywhere else on our trip. It is also a part of the world that is developing at a rapid pace and seeing the clash of new and old is fascinating . And even though I am thoroughly done with rice and noodles, I expect I will miss them soon enough :)

We are moving on to Australia next and we’ll write more from the “Land Down Under” soon!

Posted by geldere 04:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Catching the Surf in Bali & Wandering the Temples in Angkor

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Bali is a surprisingly large island with a lot to see and do. We decided to set ourselves up in the main beach town of Kuta first in order to get in some beach time and take a surfing lesson or two. Bali is a legendary surfing destination and Kuta in particular is a good place for beginners. On our first few days the beach time was severely limited by one ominous black cloud after another – it is unfortunately the rainy season on Bali. So in between downpours, we also checked out the town, enjoyed some local food, and even found a Cold Stone (we hadn’t seen one since leaving the States). I’m not sure if it was exciting or sad, but at some level you expect a place like Bali to be secluded and non-western, yet clearly visible from the beach are the ubiquitous gold arches. Most of the tourist population here is Australian, but I guess that is to be expected since Australia is as close to Bali as the United States is to the Caribbean.
IMG_1917.jpgSunset on our ferry crossing to Bali
IMG_1930.jpgA funky little street in Kuta Beach
IMG_1932.jpgThese cute kids put on a show for us in honor of their religious festival

After watching a few surfers from the beach, we decided to give it a try. It is definitely harder than it looks. We took two, really fun lessons through Odyssey Surf School. They gave us the most enormous, idiot-proof surf boards possible in order to increase our chances of standing. We learned some techniques on the beach first and then headed out to the water to give it a shot – experience is the best of teachers. After our two lessons, I now know why surfers are in such good shape – it is exhausting to paddle back out after each wave! All in all I think we did pretty well – I was excited – I stood on my very first wave! It took Jeff a few tries to get the hang of it, but he was standing by the end as well. We took some video of each other surfing, click here for the highlight video and here for the blooper video (it gives me a good laugh).
Jeff's Blooper Video
A Minor Victory

IMG_1966a.jpgGetting ready to hit the surf!
IMG_2014.jpgJeff with our enormous surf boards
IMG_2041.jpgThough not graceful- standing!

After three nights in Kuta, we moved on to a different beach, Jimbaran, in order to try and see what a more secluded Bali was like. Sadly, it was very disappointing – I have never seen so much trash on a beach in my life and it actually left us feeling just plain down. Locals said that during the rainy seasons, the frequent rains flush out the rivers on Bali and that the winds carry trash east from Java. Jimbaran was described in our guide book and online as one of Bali’s top beaches, but apparently all of the reviewers visited in the dry season. Thankfully, our little resort near the Jimbaran beach was very nice and had the “Bali” ambiance we were looking for – the sound of running water from fountains, lush landscaping, a turquoise pool with swim up bar, etc. – it was really peaceful!
IMG_1973.jpgReally, the trash was depressing
IMG_1987.jpgAt the resort
IMG_2011.jpgWe were able to catch some Balinese traditional dancing one night at dinner

After five days on Bali, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia via Singapore (fast becoming my favorite Asian city – clean, well air-conditioned, lots of malls). Siem Reap is the town that supports the “8th wonder of the world”, Angkor Wat. The town was a sleepy little place until the 1960s when Angkor Wat first became a huge tourist draw. The Temples of Angkor are coincidentally not just one temple, but several dozen spread out over a hundred plus square kilometers, one of which is Angkor Wat. They were originally created to honor Hindu gods, but were later converted into Buddhist temples. The temples, all of which were made of rock, were each likely surrounded by a village made of wood, but the wood has since disappeared.
IMG_2359.jpgA creative tuk tuk in Siem Reap
IMG_2361.jpgIn downtown Siem Reap
IMG_2369.jpgThis was great- an actual ice vendor- he would come by and saw off a piece for local businesses

Since we only had one day to sightsee, we hired a tuk-tuk for the day to buzz us around several temples. We saw a lot of temples but below I've only put pictures in of a few, or else you'd be reading forever. While spending just one day at Angkor is considered a sacrilege to some, it was unfortunately all the time we had. The Temples of Angkor are truly amazing and definitely a wonder of the world!

Angkor Wat
aw1.jpgThe national symbol of Cambodia. It was built between 1113 and 1150 roughly in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu.
aw2.jpgInside of the Angkor temple
aw3.jpgOne of the wall carvings named "The Churning of the Sea of Milk". It depicts gods on one side and demons on the other, both holding an enormous serpent that churns the sea to produce an elixir of immortality :)
aw4.jpgOutside the main Angkor temple

Bayon Temple
bay3.jpgDescribed as a basket of bottles, each of the 49 towers is surrounded by four faces.
bay1.jpgOne of the towers and faces up close
bay2.jpgOne of the carvings supposed to depict everyday Khmer life at the time
IMG_2284.jpgMonks in their fabulous saffron robes coming to the temple for prayer

Ta Phrom
ta1.jpgOne of the most atmospheric temples in Angkor as it has been left to the elements. It is also, coincidentally, where they filmed Tomb Raider
ta2.jpgEnormous trees and strangler figs have grown all over the site and in some places on top of or straight through structures
ta4.jpgJust outside the temple

We hiked up their small "mountain" for some sunset views. It was pretty cool to see the main temple of Angkor from a distance.
IMG_2332.jpgAngkor Wat
IMG_2338.jpgJust at sunset

With only eight days left in South East Asia, we are heading back to Bangkok in order to meet up with my PA school friends for some Thailand island hopping! We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 08:34 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

In the Ring of Fire – Indonesia

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Indonesia is huge - it is made up of about 17,000 islands – and we are only going to see two! There is undoubtedly a lot to see, but given our time constraints, we decided to focus on Java, the most populated island in the world, and Bali. We flew from Manila to the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, located in western Java. Jakarta as a city is fairly uninspiring - basically a concrete jungle choked with pollution. But, there are some sights to see, and we checked them out like dutiful tourists. We stopped by a still functioning school were President Obama studied for four years as a child (his stepfather was Indonesian). Then, we stopped by the National Monument and Museum to learn the underlying story of Indonesia and caught a glimpse of the Presidential Palace (also known as the “white house”). Finally, we made our way to the old Dutch section of town and stopped at Batavia for an early dinner, an atmospheric restaurant which looks down on the old town square. Nowadays the town square hosts a hodge-podge market and is a hangout place for locals.
IMG_1644.jpgThe National Monument in Jakarta
IMG_1652.jpgThe Presidential Palace "the white house" mainly because it's white
IMG_1672.jpgThe Dutch section of Jakarta

After one full day in Jakarta, we took an overnight train to Yogyakarta (pronounced “Jojakarta”) in central Java. The town is a common base for exploring two nearby temples, but it also has a few sights as well. The Taman Sari, also known as the Water Palace, is an old complex of palaces and pools where the sultan had his “secret pleasure rooms”. Interestingly, it now sits in ruin and locals have built homes and shops in and around the site. We also hit up the main market area and bought my 6th, yes 6th, pair of sunglasses on the trip. I seem to have a hard time not sitting on them or bending them somehow (thankfully, they are generally cheap to buy).
IMG_1674.jpgGetting a ride on a tricycle to our hotel
IMG_1694.jpgInside of the Water Palace
3IMG_1699.jpgOutside one of the buildings at the water palace
IMG_1703.jpgInside their shopping complex in Yogya

The main reason we were in Yogya was to see the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur. We headed out early the next morning on a day tour with Borobudur as our first stop. It’s an amazing Buddhist temple constructed around the 9th century AD. The six levels you climb up are supposed to represent the process of getting to enlightenment with Nirvana being the highest level. Its top levels were only recently re-opened to tourists as the nearby volcano erupted last year covering the site in 2 inches of ash. Indonesia is made up of a lot of volcanoes hence where it earns the nickname "the ring of fire". There are over 3 million visitors a year to the temple, but only 100,000 are foreign, which made us a bit of a novelty. As such, we were constantly approached by families and giggling teenagers to pose for photos. Our tour guide managed to keep it at a reasonable rate, but once he left us it was like a free-for-all. After having our pictures taken by about 20 different groups, we were feeling a little overwhelmed, so we headed back down to hide inside a museum until it was time to move on to Prambanan. I did manage to get a video of a huge group of girls getting their photo with Jeff – it’s pretty funny.
Jeff and the School Kids

IMG_1722.jpgOne of the families we posed with for photos- they don't smile much for photos ;)
IMG_1737.jpgReally intricate carvings when you get up close- amazing!
IMG_1739.jpgBuddha carvings
IMG_1757.jpgIn Nirvana, the highest level
IMG_1792.jpgThese particular images are everywhere here

Prambanan is a large and beautiful complex of 50 Hindu temples (not Buddhist). It was built around the same time as Borobudur, so both temples stand as a sign of the religious co-existence which existed in central Java in and around the 9th century AD. Unfortunately, a lot of the complex was extensively damaged in a 2006 earthquake (Indonesia has a lot of natural disasters) and many temples are yet to be reconstructed. The main site is made up of six of the largest temples and our tour guide had a lot of fun telling us the Hindu stories of Brahma which are depicted in carvings around the temples. Both Prambanan and Borobudur are well worth a visit and are among the most impressive religious structures we’ve seen since leaving the Middle East.
IMG_1793.jpgOne temple with what are a lot of the remanants of old temples that have fallen down
IMG_1810.jpgThe main temple at Prambanan
IMG_1826.jpgOutside the temple grounds

For our next big stop we headed east through Java to Mt. Bromo. Known for its beautiful vistas and interesting scenery, we were excited to peek down inside an active volcano. We went to bed early as we had a 3:30am wake-up call (everyone seems to think all mountains are best seen at sunrise) and were bummed the next morning to wake up to rain. Nevertheless, we made our way via jeep and hiking to a viewpoint on the crater rim for a surprisingly decent view despite the weather (but no sunrise). We then headed out by jeep across the crater valley and hiked up 270 steps to peer inside the volcano. By this time, we were absolutely soaked through and our umbrella broke in the wind. It was slightly nerve racking standing on the edge of a volcano that frequently erupts, but thankfully did not while we were there :) Afterwards, all I can say is thank God for hot showers!
IMG_1849.jpgA view of the caldera (collapsed volcano) just after sunrise
IMG_1854.jpgAt the viewpoint-already pretty wet
IMG_1873.jpgLooking down into the volcano- and thorougly soaked through!
IMG_1885.jpgView of the surrounding town on our drive back down

Once we got down off of Mt. Bromo, we hopped on a bus headed to Bali. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 05:22 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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